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What are The Best Preamps for Recording Live Sessions?

Understanding which preamps to use for your recording setup can be a minefield – so many options, and without hearing each one, how to decide which to go for? What’s the difference they’re going to make anyway? Given that a quality setup can start to get quite expensive, a little guidance goes a long way.
At Arcus Sounds, we know that quality captures of the essence of music begins at the source. That’s why we take pride in the preamps that we’ve selected to match with our selection of mics. When kitting out the Arcus Sounds Live Room, we wanted to design a setup that was immediately obvious to incoming producers, and offered a variety of options for tone sculpting, sound shaping. The recording setup in the live room can be used independently, and also links via MADI optical to our corresponding control room.
So, onto the preamps, the unsung heroes of great sound, shaping and elevating the raw beauty of every note to make sure the magic reaches the mix stage with quality and volume. Here are a few of our favorite preamps and audio cards that have become integral to our studio setup:

A rack of pro audio interfaces and preamps or pre's

1. Heritage Audio HA73 Elite

The Heritage Audio HA73 Elite stands as a testament to classic analog warmth and character. Renowned for its vintage Neve 1073-inspired design, it imparts a rich, harmonic saturation to audio signals, a great example of why Heritage Audio have developed a reputation for being one of the most faithful emulators of a true vintage classic.
Our Head Engineer, Adam, loves the way its Carnhill input and output transformers softly saturate incoming audio signals so that they leap out of the speakers – imparting impressive thickness and detail without having to push things further in the mix. With dedicated  mic, line, and instrument inputs, it can dramatically improve almost any source – vocals, acoustic guitar, or  warm up signals like synthesizers and e-pianos via its JFET Di circuit.

2. SSL XLogic Alpha VHD Pre

The SSL XLogic Alpha VHD Pre brings the legendary SSL sonic signature to our studio. Originally developed for their flagship Duality console, the SSL XLogic’s secret weapon is its variable harmonic distortion knob – allowing us to dial in varying degrees of harmonic distortion. This flexibility is invaluable, especially when seeking to add a touch of edge or warmth to a recording. The XLogic Alpha VHD Pre excels in delivering clean, transparent signals or introducing a subtle crunch when needed.

Adam adds: For a  full, ’smoother’ sound, turn the dial all the way to the left ;  or crank it further to the right for buzzy, third-order harmonic grittiness that really bites. Really brings ribbon and dynamic mics to life. 

A goldmine of info can be found in this SoS article

SSL Solid state Xlogic aloha VHD pre

3. Audient ASP880

When clarity and transparency are paramount, the Audient ASP880 is our go-to choice. 

An audient ASP 880 preamp rack unit

This eight-channel mic preamp and ADC combination provides pristine audio capture with minimal coloration. Designed to deliver ultra- low noise and low distortion with a touch of classic analogue warmth, the 880 takes the same discrete circuit design found in their recording console ASP8024-HE and packs it into a 1u rack space.
We love it for its versatility and reliability – whether it’s sitting down to record a podcast with our RE-20 Broadcast Microphones, or layering multiple drum microphones, the Audient is a workhorse and destined to enhance your studio experience. The ASP880 excels in maintaining the fidelity of the source material, making it an essential tool in our arsenal.

4. Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity

The Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity seamlessly bridges the gap between classic analog warmth and modern versatility. Its unique design allows users to blend between a pure tube signal path, solid-state transparency, or any combination of the two. 

Universal Audio 710 Twin-Finity pre amp

This flexibility makes it a versatile choice for various recording scenarios, providing sonic options that cater to the specific needs of each project. As Adam says, it’s his go on vocals, DI-bass, and guitar signals especially, the 710 is an absolute work horse and SoS thinks so too from this review!

5. Antelope Audio Goliath 36ch+ Interface

At the heart of our expansive setup is the Antelope Audio Goliath 36ch+ Interface. Boasting an impressive 36 channels, this interface ensures we have the flexibility to handle large-scale recording sessions with ease. We’ll be doing a separate blog on Goliath,  but it’s important to note that the Goliath’s  16 high-quality preamps and converters are clean and smooth enough to fully expand our recording capacity to create a truly versatile studio where you don’t have to compromise on your preamp choices, with the Goliath taking care of any channels that don’t need the special treatment from our other pre-amps, saving them for the tracks that really need them 

the Antelope audio Goliath audio interface

Conclusion

The preamps and audio cards at Arcus Sounds are carefully selected to meet the diverse demands of our clients and artists. From vintage warmth to modern precision, each piece of equipment plays a crucial role in sculpting the sound that defines our studio’s signature. They’re essential to getting great recordings as they ensure the signal reaches your DAW at a level of loudness that enables you to create the best possible mixes, via effective gain staging and beyond. More to come on this in the future, in the meantime, think about getting in touch to see first hand how we are harnessing the power of exceptional gear to bring your musical vision to life, and have listen to how we use it on our Live Sessions below.

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